The Global Mental Health Residency Track

The Global Mental Health Track curriculum is constituted by clinical theories, knowledge base, and skill sets that:

  • Are portable across cultures
  • Treat both psychiatric disorders and the human suffering that is a normal stress response to trauma, loss, stigmatization, violence, or social injustice
  • Provide interventions that are implementable within resource-poor environments in accordance with international guidelines and global best practices     
  • Combine population health and policy perspectives with person-centered therapeutics
  • Emphasize prevention strategies and resilience-building strategies at individual, family, and societal levels
  • Enable multi-tiered treatment programs that integrate psychosocial therapies, pharmacological therapies, patient and family psychoeducation, mobilization of family and community resources, and political advocacy
  • Are consistent with local and international ethical standards for mental health research and intervention

The Global Mental Health Track is embedded within a general residency curriculum that provides for all our residents a strong grounding in psychiatric humanism, with emphases upon social neuroscience, transcultural psychiatry, mental health policy and advocacy, selected psychotherapies, and child and family psychiatry. For example, a 10-week PGY-II didactic curriculum covers sociocultural assessment, ethnopharmacology, medical anthropology, policy analysis in international mental health, and consultation to traumatized communities or mental health services in low- and middle-income countries. In the PGY-III year, approximately 24 weeks of additional seminars teach psychotherapeutic methods for posttraumatic and dissociative symptoms, emotionally-focused couple therapy for trauma survivors, family therapy, and clinical methods for including patients’ spiritual resources in treatment. For clinical training, PGY-III residents can conduct a year-long, half-day weekly clinic with immigrants and refugees, utilizing interpreters for non-English-speaking patients. PGY-IV residents can elect a year-long elective in psychiatric care of political torture-survivors. In our Human Rights Clinic, psychiatry residents conduct supervised psychiatric evaluations for refugees seeking political asylum in the United States. 

International training experiences have been provided for Global Mental Health track residents through a network of collaborations with the Carter Center in Atlanta, NIMH-funded research programs, DIGNITY (Danish non-governmental organization that provides torture recovery programs in low- and middle-income countries), and other organizations.  

  • Selected residents who enter the Global Mental Health (GMH) track in their PGY-I year can spend part of each residency year in international training experiences. PGY-IV residents have spent as much as eight months of their final residency year training in international sites.
  • During recent years, residents in the GMH track conducted training experiences in Liberia, Uganda, Nepal, Greece, South Africa, Jordan, West Bank Palestine, and Cambodia.
  • During the 2015 academic year, residents in the GMH track will conduct training experiences in Bangalore, India; Mumbai, India; West Bank Palestine; and Nigeria.

Peter Polatin, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Division of Global Psychiatry, has provided mentorship for international mental health training experiences through his additional roles as senior health adviser for DIGNITY and as a faculty member in the Harvard Global Mental Health Program. Dr. Polatin has consulted to torture-survivor recovery programs in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Jordan, Greece, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

In the early years of the Global Mental Health Track, residents bore the costs of travel for international projects, other than continued salary support. A gift of $2,600,000 established the Charles and Sonia Akman Professorship in Global Psychiatry in 2012, which has included funding for residents’ international projects that offset travel expenses. Together with travel funds from the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the GW SMHS Office of International Medicine Programs, personal expenses for residents on international rotations have been substantially reduced.